Cache-Sexe Modesty Skirt From Papupa New Guinea
Sacred And The Profane

Cache-Sexe Modesty Skirt From Papupa New Guinea

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Item details

Vintage from the 1960s

From West Sepik, Papua New Guinea, a classic cache-sexe apron skirt composed of job's tears beads and old shell pieces on hand rolled fiber string. The more ornate and complex the apron, the greater the wealth and prestige of the family. The term "cache-sexe" refers to a covering for the female genitals. The term is derived from the French cacher, which means to hide, and sexe, which means genitals. Other terms used synonymously are modesty apron, marriage apron, modesty skirt, loincloth, string skirt, and girdle. Cache-sexe appear to be exclusive to females. When and how a woman wears a cache-sexe varies from society to society. In some, a girl begins to wear the skirt after menarche; in others menarche is recognized by a change from a small leather panel skirt to a fringed skirt. Female informants report that protection from the environment is the main reason they wear cache-sexe. However, because of the open styling of the of the skirt, either as panels hanging in front and back or as fringes, it may be less effective as physical protection than as spiritual protection. Articles of dress with ritual power, such as the cache-sexe, are used to protect, rather than to actually conceal, the lower body against evil. Indeed, the main function of the cache sexe, like the penis sheath, or phallocrypt, appears to be one of drawing attention to the female secondary sex characteristics by intermittently concealing them. In her contemplation of Paleolithic string skirts, Barber states: "To solve the mystery of why they were [worn], I think we must follow our eyes. Not only do the skirts hide nothing of importance, but also if anything, they attract the eye precisely to the specifically female sexual areas by framing them, presenting them, or playing peekaboo with them …. Our best guess, then is that string skirts indicated something about the childbearing ability or readiness of a woman, … that she was in some sense "available" as a bride (Barber, Elizabeth Wayland. Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1994. p. 59)". Thus, the cache sexe, by any other name, is exclusively a female symbol. Like the penis sheath, it is more than a covering or a display. It is a unique form of material culture that draws one in to an understanding of the physical, social, and aesthetic life of women in some small-scale cultures.

Circa mid 20th century or earlier. From a recently dispersed inventory of a well known collector of Pacific Island art and artifacts. Rare and extremely displayable and collectible. Measures about 8 inches across and about 5 inches from top to bottom